The Chaffey Bros: innovative Aussie wines for the UK on-trade

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Original version of this appeared on the-buyer.net.

The Chaffey Bros Wine Co was one of the stand out producers at last week’s Artisans of Australia tasting. Here Christina Rasmussen talks to Daniel Chaffey Hartwig about how he and his brother-in-law, Theo, are looking to make modern wines that are still true to the terroir and traditions of the Barossa and Eden Valleys.

From their Not Your Grandma’s and Punkt series of wines, the Chaffey Bros Wine Co are at the forefront of the exciting new face of winemaking in Australia. 

Having first tasted the wines of the Chaffey Bros at the London Wine Fair and being blown away by a) the wines, b) the labels and c) their visual immersive aids (film clip shown with headphones while tasting), I decided to have a chat with Daniel Chaffey Hartwig (one half of the Chaffeys) and hear a bit more about the latest faces of artisan Australia to come into the UK on-trade (via UK importers Negociants UK)

What is your background and how did you get in to winemaking?

I’m a Barossa boy who has somehow managed to combine all my interests in my day-to-day vocation! I thank God everyday that I can call this pastime work. I was born in the Barossa to parents who worked at a large winery (Penfolds) and my father comes from a family line (Chaffey) that spans back five generations in winemaking, if you count me too.

I had no intention to become a winemaker, but my early ambitions of becoming an electronics engineer were thwarted due to poor school grades so I decided to just get out and get a job in the Barossa. Mostly this leads to wine! It took about 20 years of working in cellar doors, wine label printers and as a bulk wine broker to finally get the opportunity to do what I really love: telling the stories of our region through it’s quintessential styles as we see them.

I was fortunate to marry Louanne and gain not only a loving wife but also my brother in law and now business partner, Theo, who brings business acumen and his own raft of ideas for new wines. We tend to work on most things together from making the wines, to designing the packaging and even manning the tastings and hosting dinners.

What made you choose the Barossa and Eden Valleys to make wine?

Most passion projects have a muse and my muse has always been the land I grew up in, a remarkable place founded on a beautiful yet sometimes brutal remote landscape, an environment with a rich tapestry of diverse people of varied backgrounds and often strong personalities yet unified through a common interest and passion. The relative isolation from the rest of the world simply increases the desire to share our home with the rest of the world. 

 How long have you been making wine?

That depends somewhat on what you call winemaking! I made our first wines as a blender -working hard in an attempt to improve other people’s wines and subsequently then learnt to make wine, as a way to reverse engineer the wines I loved and appreciated from other makers. So the first wines we completely made ourselves were our 2013 vintage wines, but I have been blending wines for many years more and in the process I have been fortunate enough to watch and learn from some of our region’s finest winemakers.

What were the inspirations behind the “Not your Grandma’s” series?

The Not Your Grandma’s is a nod to the rather less impressive wines made back in the day in Australia

It struck me from quite an early age that Eden Valley Riesling was the best white wine of the Barossa region and that Riesling was the regal white grape. It was a surprised to find out years later that the public at large did not share this view.

The stigma of Riesling being something that grandma drank is exacerbated in Australia by the fact that “Riesling” consumed in the 1980s were cheap wines often consumed from a cask (box wine) or flagon. At that stage, “Riesling” was allowed to be a mix of varieties, none of which needed to necessarily be Riesling! It was sweet and innocuous neutral plonk, real headache inducing stuff, so no doubt many folk have steered clear of “Riesling” ever since…

From then, until today, we have had fantastically ethereal  – paradoxically intense yet delicate, fragrant, complex dry Riesling styles being produced from the Eden Valley and Clare Valley regions in particular. Many of these wines were overlooked and ignored until recently, thanks to their historical namesake and imposter.

So, the idea sprang to mind that these are not the Rieslings I saw my grandparents drinking at family get-togethers and I saw the name “Not Your Grandma’s” as a great way to describe the wines. It also acts as a challenge to the reader to try and find out what we mean.

The same applies to the NYG Rosé. Previously, rosé in Australia had been somewhat of an afterthought wine. We are setting out to make fine, pale, dry rosé from old vine Grenache and Mourvèdre, very different wines to 10 – 20 years ago.

You now have four series of wines  – the Not your Grandma’s, the Punkt, the Battle for Barossa, and the Evangeline/Synonymous/Super. How did you decide on these four series and what do they represent?

Is it that many already!? We are focused on Riesling, Grenache and Shiraz so each of these ranges generally heroes these varieties in some way, shape or form:

Not Your Grandma’s: it’s all about re-inventing the great styles of the Barossa. More to come…!

The Punkts: these are all about drilling down to specific sites or Punkts (points) of the Eden Valley and telling the stories of the varied terroir and expressions of Riesling (and Riesling blends) throughout this less well-known part of Barossa.

Battle for Barossa: Spain vs France, as per the original battle. Our region was named after this Napoleonic battle for Cadiz fought at Barrosa Ridge, Spain in 1811. Colonel William Light was reminded/inspired by the similar landscape on his arrival in our Barossa Valley. Our region is based on French varietals such as Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, but we are now seeing Tempranillo, Garnacha etc planted and making waves in our region. A new battle is looming in the vineyards…

Evangeline and Elijah: are two single site expressions of Eden Valley Shiraz from the diverse Northern and Southern tips of Eden Valley. Evangeline, from the southern site, is elegant and finer Syrah-like in character, Elijah in the North a more foreboding intense style that is unashamedly more Shiraz than Syrah in character.

Synonymous and Superbarossa: are the Barossa archetypes, Synonymous a modern expression of Barossa Shiraz and Superbarossa is our version of the Great Australian Red blend, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon – the original Barossa red.

Your Zeitpunkt is organic. Is organic the future of all your wines do you think? 

We do see organic wine as the future in many ways.  Zeitpunkt is certified organic and is an example to our growers of the direction we’d like to keep moving towards. Many of our growers are already following organic principles, but some have not yet sought certification due to cost and some risk factors in challenging years.

We are seeing great progress with the newest generation of grape growers sharing our views, as they, of course, want their children to grow up in the cleanest of environments. We know so much more than prior generations about products that have been used traditionally, and this generation is willing to make the change for quality of life and quality of wine.

How would you describe your winemaking methods and philosophy?

Our winemaking method is minimal intervention; we pick vineyards earlier than many to take advantage of natural acid and fruit balance. We avoid acid adjustments. We don’t fine our wines with either natural or synthetic fining agents; we prefer our wines to have some texture and mouth feel. We do some indigenous ferments yet we sometimes use selected yeast strains when we feel it is advantageous to achieve aromatic profile and highlight the terroir.

I’m not so keen on meeting an arbitrary category of winemaking; just intent on putting the best expressions we can into the bottle. We drink our own wines so it is important not to add anything that is not necessary. Minimal sulphur addition is the best practice in a winery for attention to detail!

How important is organic produce in Australian marketplace?

In some households it is already quite important particularly on some products. It is quickly becoming more important across the board. We regularly buy organic fruit and vegetables in our household, if not certified organic we seek farmers we trust, not all of them bother with the organic certification due to cost but it is important to understand the farmers’ ethos.

Your label graphics and designs are very distinctive. Who does them, and what’s the inspiration behind the design?

Thank you kindly! It is a bit of a team effort I guess, the inspiration is from the vineyards and the key styles of the region, I came up with the early names and recently Theo and I have riffed ideas between us. We also have a fantastic graphic designer friend in Cherise Conrick (typespace.com.au), and recently we have been working with local Adelaide artist Leah Grant to add some colour to the Battle for Barossa series and our newest label – PAX AETERNA Barossa Nouveau Grenache launched recently on World Grenache Day.

I thoroughly enjoyed your visuals for the wine tasting at the LWF. How did this come about? 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/147530545

Thank you again! This is something we have wanted to do for a long time; wine is often a multi sensory experience that needs to be described using all of the senses we can employ. We made this in a few weeks prior to a wine event in October 2015 in an attempt to place the visitor virtually into the vineyard/our headspace when making the wines.

We all remember certain wines because of the occasion and the people we enjoyed them with and maybe the music that was playing at the time – it’s just an excuse to have fun and take people on a journey deeper into the ideas behind each wine. Also more to come…

Where do you see your future? Is there anything else you’d like to grow or produce? 

In the real world we have enough on our plate already, but in the dream world there is always room for more. Maybe more Grenache and weird/wacky new white varieties through Eden Valley? Dreams are more exciting than real world so let’s wait and see.

There are a few old Barossa varieties we are still overlooking too…

Aside from your own wines, which other wines/winemakers of Australia do you like, and admire?

Henschke for pioneering iconic Eden Valley single vineyard wines, the likes of Grosset, Jim Barry, Henschke and Yalumba (Pewsey Vale) for doggedly pursuing Riesling through years in the wilderness of wine. New wave producers like Ochota Barrels and many, many other new guys for showing a brave new face of Australian wine.

What are your personal favourite grape varietals?

Riesling, Grenache and Syrah for their site expressive nature. Plus Gewurztraminer. I love all of the aromatic and textural whites for that matter, like Graciano and Mourvèdre…the list goes on!

The Chaffey Bros Wine Co wines are available through Negociants UK

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